The night after the third presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump participated in a gala dinner organized by the Catholic Church, which was dedicated to raising funds for charity. They sat very close to one another, separated only by the archbishop of New York.
Trump used the opportunity to continue to attack Clinton. It was inappropriate; the audience booed. I had never experienced anything like it. The tradition is for the candidates to use humor and to make fun of themselves; in other words, to show a contradictory and more vulnerable side. We should be wary of people who are unable to make fun of themselves, people like Stalin, Fidel Castro and Chairman Mao.
Humor would have been good, for it is through laughter that people understand each other better. While American political history has not been lacking in brawls, and even duels to the death when such things were lawful, the general trend has been toward respectful treatment. You do not have to love your enemies, but you should treat them with respect. Some might call this hypocrisy, but they would be wrong.
Two of the great Republican presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, were famous for their sense of humor. Reagan never lost his, even when he learned that he had Alzheimer’s disease. The story goes that while he was quietly pondering his diagnosis, he smiled and said, “That’s the great thing about having Alzheimer’s, you get to meet new people every day.”
Many years ago, Adolfo Suarez, the first president of the Spanish government during the transition, explained to me that one of the secrets of his success was “civic cordiality.” It was what enabled him to sit at the same table as Communists and Franco supporters, Republicans and monarchists, socialists and liberals. “Personal attacks close the door to compromise,” he said, “and a good deal of politics is about asking for, and making, concessions.”
In politics, your behavior is as important as what you say. Perhaps this explains the growing rejection of the Republican candidate. After stating in the third debate that nobody was more respectful toward women than he was, he called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.” He repeated the phrase at the aforementioned dinner. He had previously threatened to put her in jail if he becomes president.
Trump’s candidacy has been derailed by his behavior: his insults, outbursts, and intimidating gestures; by always being on the verge of punching someone in the face. After the third debate, CNN undertook the usual survey about who had won and lost: 52 percent of respondents said that Hillary was victorious, while only 39 percent said that Trump had performed better; a difference of 13 points.
However, when one compares the candidates’ views on the vast majority of subjects (economics, immigration, health, etc.), the two come very close. Sometimes Hillary was winning; at other times it was Trump. He even scored one more point than she did for sincerity.
Why, however, was the general view more favorable toward Hillary? Obviously, because of her behavior. She looked more presidential, more reliable, more educated. And far more cautious too, one of the greatest virtues a person in authority can have, especially when the power to destroy the planet is in your hands.
Almost nobody doubts that Clinton has lied on countless occasions; or that she erased thousands of emails. But she managed to convince viewers of the danger of putting the potential for unleashing a nuclear war into Trump’s irascible hands. No wonder 50 Republican strategists and many other former members of Congress declared that Trump is not fit to serve as president of the United States.
After the election, which Trump is about to lose, and even though the party would have won with almost any other candidate, the Republicans will have a very urgent task. Before looking for a new leader, they will need to regain their sense of humor. Without civic cordiality it is very difficult to live in a democracy.